‘NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament’

The 2021 NCAA men's college basketball tournament is expected to be played in its entirety in Indiana. (Bill Wippert/AP)
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The 2021 NCAA men's college basketball tournament is expected to be played in its entirety in Indiana. (Bill Wippert/AP)

Credit: AP

College basketball coach critical of playing amid the coronavirus pandemic

WACO, Texas — Baylor coach Kim Mulkey believes money will be the main reason the NCAA will continue playing basketball this season and hold its men’s and women’s tournaments amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The answer is this: The season will continue on. It’s called the almighty dollar,” Mulkey said after the sixth-ranked Lady Bears lost 75-71 to Iowa State on Saturday night. “The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else.”

The 2020 Final Four in Atlanta was canceled amid the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA announced earlier this month that this year’s 67 men’s basketball tournament games including the Final Four will be played entirely in Indiana. No decision has been made on the women’s tournament.

Over the last few days, the Virginia and San Jose State women’s teams decided to end their seasons.

“We have the pleasure of coaching a very resilient group of young women who have fought through injuries, COVID-19 protocol and all the mental battles that come with it,” Virginia coach Tina Thompson said in a statement. “So the decision to end our season midstream comes with great difficulty.

“As difficult as it is to end our season in this manner, it is a necessary one.”

They joined Duke and SMU as schools that had already ended their seasons after starting them.

Georgia State’s men’s team and women’s team have experienced midseason pauses due to the virus. Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team has now had four consecutive games postponed, the first three because of COVID-19 issues within their own team.

College basketball teams are accustomed to being busy through the holidays, often absent for family gatherings on Thanksgiving in particular. During this pandemic-altered season, players were even more isolated with campuses largely cleared out and arena doors closed to fans in many places.

Many teams didn’t allow their players to go home over the holidays for fear of spreading COVID-19. Mulkey had a small gathering at her house and contracted the virus.

She returned to the sidelines Saturday for the first time since Dec. 19 and her team hadn’t practiced much over the last few weeks because of protocols.

“One conference does this, one conference does that. The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says this. Everybody is confused. I’m confused. I’m uncomfortable coaching. I understand, COVID is real. I’ve had it — come talk to me sometime. But I don’t know ... all the calls and procedures, that’s gonna go on and make it unusual, uncomfortable for every program. We’re no different at Baylor.”